Analgesics are medicines used to relieve pain such as headaches, backaches, joint pain, sore muscles, menstrual cramps, and pain that results from surgery, injury, or illness. While these drugs do not treat whatever is causing thepain, they can provide enough relief to make people more comfortable and to allow them to carry out their daily routines.

Pain is the body's signal that something is wrong. Pain can result from an injury, such as a broken bone, a burn or a sprain; from overuse of muscles (including muscle tension due to stress); from infections, such as sinus infections or meningitis; or from natural events, such as childbirth.

Pain begins at the level of the cells. In response to injury or inflammation,cells release chemical messengers. These chemical messengers alert other specialized cells called pain receptors. The pain receptors send signals to thebrain. The brain interprets the signals, and we perceive pain. Analgesics work by either blocking the signals that go to the brain or by interfering withthe brain's interpretation of the signals.

Among the most common analgesics are aspirin, choline salicylate, magnesium salicylate, and sodium salicylate. Ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and ketoprofenare all in the general category known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDs). NSAIDs relieve pain and also reduce inflammation. Another common analgesic, acetaminophen, provides pain relief but does not reduce inflammation.

Determining the best pain reliever depends, in part, on the type of pain. Thetwo main categories are acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain is usually temporary and results from something specific, such as a surgery, injuries, orinfections. Chronic pain is any pain that lasts more than three months and may disrupt daily life. Sometimes chronic pain is just a nagging discomfort, but it can flare up into severe pain. Narcotic analgesics are used to treat some kinds of serious, chronic pain. But for most types of chronic pain, a combination of non-narcotic medication and lifestyle changes is recommended.

Severe, sudden, or lingering pain can be a sign of a serious medical condition. Medical attention is necessary for any pain that comes on suddenly; is more frequent or more severe than ever before; does not go away, or gets worse;or interferes with daily activities. If pain is accompanied by fever, stiff neck, weakness, swelling, redness, nausea, vomiting, numbness, confusion, vision problems, speech problems, poor coordination, medical attention should also be sought.

Overuse of pain relievers can actually make some types of pain worse. To manage long-term pain, such as recurring headaches, chronic backache, or arthritis pain, many pain treatment specialists recommend an approach that helps people cope without depending on large or frequent doses of drugs. Relaxation techniques, biofeedback, massage, exercise, proper diet, and good sleep habits can all be helpful. Psychological counseling may also help patients and theirfamilies deal with the anxiety and depression that often accompany long-termpain.

Side effects are one reason to be careful about frequent or long-term use ofpain relievers. Narcotic analgesics are very effective, but can cause addiction. Aspirin and ibuprofen can irritate the stomach. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Panadol) does not produce the side effects that aspirin ibuprofen do, but highdoses can cause liver damage, especially in people who drink alcohol regularly. Some pain relievers contain caffeine, which enhances their effectiveness.Taking these drugs near bedtime can interfere with sleep. Anyone who gets edgy or jittery from caffeine should also be careful about using them during the day.

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